What are Custody and Visitation Rights of an Unmarried Father in Virginia?
If you have a child in the Commonwealth of Virginia and you are not legally married to the mother at the time the child is born, the lack of an official marriage means there is no presumption under Virginia law that you are the biological father. If you do not establish paternity, you will not have any parental rights. Establishing paternity can be a difficult process in some instances. Having an experienced Leesburg family law attorney guiding you through the process can help establish paternity and ensure you get visitation rights at a minimum.
How to Establish Paternity in Virginia
If you and the mother are in agreement on paternity, establishing paternity can be as simple as you both signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) in the presence of a witness. These forms will be available at the hospital so you can fill it out right away or at a later date. If there is question as to whether or not you are the father, it may be best to wait and have genetic testing done to confirm the results. If paternity is disputed and/or the mother is being difficult, you can get a genetic DNA test. Once the results are in and your name is added to the child’s birth certificate, you can start work on visitation rights and possible custody.
Applying for Custody
There is a historic belief that courts automatically favor the mother in custody cases, but that is not necessarily true. There is no established law in Virginia that favors one parent over the other. The court will look at what is in the best interest of the child, and they want children to bond and build solid relationships with both parents.
While there is no law favoring one parent, the court may favor the primary caretaker, which is typically the mother in this instance since paternity has to be established for the father. This is another reason why starting the process quickly after the child is born is so important.
If both parents agree, the matter can be resolved with a parenting agreement. The parenting agreement sets forth who will have custody and how important decisions will be handled. Once you agree on a plan, you can request the judge enter this into the final order for custody and visitation rights. If you can’t agree on a parenting plan, one parent needs to apply for a hearing.
Retaining a Virginia Family Law Attorney
If you’re going through a paternity matter and need assistance, the Leesburg-based family law attorneys at Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC have years of experience in many areas of family law, including child custody. Contact our office at 703.997.4982 to schedule a consultation.